These are the episode notes and errata for Pratchat episode 73, “This Christmas Goes to Eleven”, discussing Terry Pratchett’s 2017 collection of short children’s fiction, Father Christmas’s Fake Beard.
We’ll be sure to add photos of some of the Christmas food we mentioned here when we can.
Notes and Errata
- The episode title is a reference to the famous scene in the 1984 mockumentary film This is Spinal Tap. The film follows famous metal band Spinal Tap on a fairly disastrous tour; at one point guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) shows off his amplifiers which he has had custom made with dials that go to eleven rather than ten, which makes them “one louder”. When asked why he didn’t just “make ten louder”, he replies: “This one goes to eleven.” It seemed a perfect reference for the extreme Christmasness of Father Christmas’ Fake Beard, which also contains eleven stories.
- The twelve days of Christmas are a Christian celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. Some traditions have it starting with Christmas Day, and some the day after, which is Boxing Day in the UK and Commonwealth countries like Australia, and also St Stephen’s Day (the “Feast of Stephen” referenced in the other song featured in this book, Good King Wenceslas). The season is also called Twelvetide, though “Christmastide” is technically a different thing that doesn’t exactly match up, depending on your church. The last night is “Twelfth Night”, as in the Shakespeare play.
- Father Christmas is now synonymous with Santa Claus, but this wasn’t always the case. He was the folkloric personification of Christmas in Britain, going back a few hundred years, but by Victorian times began to more resemble the modern Santa Claus, especially after the American version was imported in the mid 1800s. As Ben mentions, Santa Claus’s origins lie with Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas (not German as Ben misremembers), but the modern version also incorporates bits of Father Christmas and Saint Nicholas. Ben did once know this, but it’s as if he’s forgotten everything he learned for our Hogfather episode back in 2019! And Pratchett certainly dove deep on the folklore and history when he was writing the novel. But we’re still keen to know what modern sentiment is around the names, because there’s no longer any meaningful distinction between the traditions – Father Christmas has been fully Santa-fied.
- The book is still in print as far as we can tell! But this isn’t as easy to determine as it once was…
- Pratchett’s other collections of children’s stories also contain a few stories seen elsewhere. Dragons at Crumbling Castle and The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner both had deluxe slipcase editions which contained a couple of additional stories, and those stories are included in all editions of the fourth volume The Time-travelling Caveman (though it too had a deluxe edition with a story so far not collected elsewhere). In addition, The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner also includes “Rincemangle, the Gnome of Even Moor”, which also appears in Once More* *with Footnotes and A Blink of the Screen.
- Some of these stories were originally published without any title, especially those from the Bucks Free Press. The titles were made up for the purposes of this book. But then again, according to the list in the book, that includes some of the stories which had been previously published in earlier collections under other titles, like “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas”.
- Father Christmas’s Fake Beard includes the opening section of Truckers as bonus material. It’s in that book that “Arnold Bros (est 1905)” (not 1903) is revealed to be owned by Arnco Group, along with a great many other businesses, when Gurder, Masklin and Grimma travel to the Top of the Store to learn the truth about the Thing’s warnings of it being demolished. You can hear more about that in #Pratchat9, “Upscalator to Heaven”.
- “Old man yells at cloud” is a meme derived from The Simpsons, specifically the 2002 episode “The Old Man and the Key”. In one scene Homer’s father Abe Simpson needs a photograph for a driver’s license, and uses a photo from a newspaper story about him; it shows him shaking his fist at a cloud in the sky, with the headline “OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUD”. It’s been used as a meme since around 2008, usually to denote someone complaining about something for no good reason.
- Clinkers are a lolly (or sweet or candy, depending on which flavour of English you speak) manufactured by the Australian confectionary brand Pascall (now owned by Cadbury, in turn owned by Mondelez International). They consist of brightly coloured oval-shaped hard nougat, much like the candy honeycomb you find in Violet Crumble or Crunchie chocolate bars, coated in Cadbury chocolate. We’re not actually sure what Liz’s Dad thinks “Clinker” means, but Ben is pretty close: it’s a generic name for industrial waste products formed by the burning of coal or working of metal, which usually forms small, brittle glassy round shapes – much like the candy.
- Isembard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) was an English engineer best known for his work during the Industrial Revolution, especially with steamships, railways, bridges and tunnels. There’s a lot to say about him – way more than we can fit in a note – but remember that “Great Man” histories are always over-simplified and leave out a lot of people who were vital to whatever the man in question did, even if he was very great.
- It’s been a while since we mentioned the steamroller story, but the short version is that his hard drives containing his unfinished work were destroyed by a steamroller, according to his wishes, in 2017 – the same year Father Christmas’s Fake Beard was published! You can read about it in this Guardian article.
- We discussed Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook back in #Pratchat50, “Salt Rat Arsenic Heat”. B S Johnson’s giant pie was also a disaster. Described informally as “the Great Fruit Pie” (it was made mostly of apples), and under the title “Bloody Stupid Johnson’s Individual Fruit Pie”, Ben remembers rightly that Johnson thought of making a giant pie whistle; however it wasn’t finished until a week after the explosion, and the 30-foot-high “whistling blackbird” is said to be a memorial to those lost to the pie, situated in Hide Park. (The dish created for the pie is now the roof of a house.)
- While there is more detail to be found at colinsmythe.co.uk, Ben entirely missed that the book does include original titles and publications for each of the stories in it – they’re in small text on the imprint page, just before Rob Wilkin’s introduction.
More notes to come!
Thanks for reading our notes! If we missed anything, or you have questions, please let us know.